Judge Thomas Alexander Mellon

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Thomas Alexander Mellon

Birthdate: (95)
Birthplace: Camp Hill Cottage, Parish of Cappaigh, Castleton, Ireland, Tyrone
Death: February 3, 1908 (95)
Pittsburgh, PA, USA
Place of Burial: Pittsburgh, PA, USA
Immediate Family:

Son of Andrew Mellon and Rebecca Mellon
Husband of Sarah Negley
Father of Thomas Alexander Mellon; James Ross Mellon; Sarah Emma Mellon; Annie Rebecca Mellon; Samuel Selwyn Mellon and 4 others
Brother of Eleanor Stotter; Eliza Bowman; Margaret Shields; Samuel Mellon and William Mellon

Managed by: Private User
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About Judge Thomas Alexander Mellon


The World of Thomas Mellon

By C. Hax McCullough, Jr.

Judge Thomas Mellon was a leader among men, highly honored by his friends and associates, and a completely self made man. Among his many achievements he founded T. Mellon & Son's Bank, ancestor of today's giant banking institution, Mellon Bank.

Thomas Mellon began his life in 1813 on a farm in County Tyrone, province of Ulster, Northern Ireland. With his parents he emigrated to the United States in 1818 and settled on a farm three miles from Murrysville in Westmoreland County. The Mellon's ancestry was originally Scottish - Thomas' great, great grandfather had moved from Scotland to Northern Ireland in 1660. The Mellons were all farmers and their rigorous life was full of struggle and unending labor.

Inspired by Franklin

When they came to America, Andrew Mellon, Thomas Mellon's father, his mother and he landed in Baltimore, and made the arduous journey by Conestoga wagon over the mountains to their new Pennsylvania home.

Guided by his mother and inspired by the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas yearned for reading, travel and education. The more he read, the more he wanted to know, he got what education he could nearby and decided that his future lay in the professions rather than with the soil.

In October 1834, without fear and with almost no money, Thomas Mellon enrolled in the Western University (now the University of Pittsburgh), completing his studies over five years.

Thomas Mellon, attorney at law, entered the practice of law and prospered. His fees were low, his hours long and his dedication to his clients was unstinting. He rapidly built a reputation.

A Fruitful Union

With money and a prospering practice Thomas Mellon set out to find a wife. The object of his affection was Sarah Jane Negley. They were married on August 22, 1834.

In the years that followed, Thomas Mellon and his Sarah were blessed with eight children, four of whom died: two as infants, one at the age of nine and another at the age of 26. The four who survived became famous men, two of whom - Andrew W. Mellon - and Richard B. Mellon - attained worldwide fame in banking, business, government, philanthropy and the arts.

Adherence to Law

Thomas Mellon was elected Judge, Court of Common Pleas, took his place on the bench and began his judicial life on December 1, 1859. He was a strict enforcer of the law on the bench as he had been as an attorney pleading his client's cause before it. When a crime had been committed he firmly believed in proper enforcement of the law.

As Judge Mellon's ten year term came to a close, he looked to the future with his usual confidence. Business was good and he longed to take a more active part in it. "At length, after a continuous session of over six weeks in the criminal court, I delivered my last charge to the jury and took my last verdict; and on the first Monday of December, 1869, stepped down and out and was again a free man," he related. "And above all this I had two bright boys just out of school, the idols of my heart, merging on manhood, and with fine business capacities, whom I was eager to launch on this floor tide of business prosperity, and to pilot them in the channel for some part of their way."*

A Pittsburgh Bank

At liberty again, Judge Mellon, "concluded to open a banking house." This he did about December 1, 1869. The doors were opened for business on January 2, 1870 in a tiny rented office on Smithfield Street where the Oliver Builder now stands.

"The banking business was unusually active at the time," Thomas Mellon said, "and continued more and more so until the collapse of 1873."

Many banks failed - yet T. Mellon & Sons' Bank was open and transacting business with its usual orderly calm.

"We never closed," said the Judge, "and never entirely stopped payment to those in need. In less than a month, we were prepared to pay all checks as presented." This was a remarkable achievement in Pittsburgh where fifty percent of the ninety organized banks and twelve private banks failed.

Gentlemanly Conduct

Judge Mellon was humane and considerate. As he put it, "I remember when my parents were in the same condition under the collapse of 1819 and their hard struggles and deprivations to save themselves; and the sympathy produced by this early experience inclined me to be lenient and indulgent to all who made any earnest effort. We forfeited no contracts where the parties were doing the best they could to pay for and hold their property."

As in all his dealings, Judge Thomas Mellon felt that "Men in any condition of life will act better if treated as gentlemen."

On January 5, 1882 Judge Thomas Mellon fulfilled the plan he had when he founded his bank by stepping down and giving it to his son, Andrew W. Mellon. Andrew had worked with him for nine years and had been given a one-fifth interest at the outset.

Shortly afterward Andrew Mellon gave half of the bank to his brother Richard B. Mellon. Thus began an era of cooperation and banking success which grew to worldwide status. That close association extended from business to social matters; they always acted together.

Thomas Mellon had a searching mind and deep understanding of the principles of human behavior. He never shirked his responsibilities to appraise people and circumstances, to make decisions based on his principles and to carry them out. He was a born leader among men. He set standards of morality, ethics, and taste that formed a model for the Mellons who have descended from him. He was a major spokesman of his day on matters of religion, politics, military, medicine, philosophy, ethics, science, labor, law, social betterment, education, travel and finance. He participated successfully in many businesses (particularly in coal and real estate) and knew and worked with local citizens in all walks of life. He was a striking example of the triumphs of individual motivation, imagination and hard work.

A Rewarding Life

Hard-headed though he was in business, he was basically a religious and sentimental man. Above all he was a devoted husband and family man. He described his marriage as "the luckiest event in my life," and of his long life he said as he neared the end "all has gone well."

  • Quotations are from the autobiography Thomas Mellon and His Times, which will be republished next year by the University of Pittsburgh Press.

Judge Mellon (1813-1908) is buried in the Mellon-Negley plot in Section 19. Mellon's parents are also buried there.

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Judge Thomas Alexander Mellon's Timeline

February 3, 1813
Parish of Cappaigh, Castleton, Ireland, Tyrone
June 26, 1844
Age 31
Pittsburgh, Allegheny, Pennsylvania, United States
January 14, 1846
Age 32
December 26, 1847
Age 34
January 26, 1851
Age 37
February 11, 1853
Age 40
March 24, 1855
Age 42
Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, United States
March 19, 1858
Age 45
PA, United States
June 30, 1860
Age 47